Sixty-five years ago I sold my very first piece of professional writing to the CBC.
I was 21 years old, with a new degree – an M.A., Double Honours, English and French - and a new title – an M.R.S. – married just 17 days after graduating. I had been an academic, you might even say, a pedant. Now I was determined to be a writer. Schooled as I was in Great Literature, I did not presume to attempt a Great Canadian Novel nor an epic poem. But I loved hanging around words. I just wanted to write.
The problem was, I didn’t know what to write about. I mean, what did I know about Life? I was young, I was female, and I was from Winnipeg, for heaven’s sake. What could I possibly tell anyone they wanted to hear or didn’t already know? What I didn’t know could fill a house, or an apartment - our first home, my husband’s and mine. I was a Bluestocking, not a homemaker, not even close to a homemaker and not much use as a housewife. I knew about Bluestockings, the name of a predominantly female society of bookish people first designated in the 18th century, and very shortly scorned for their lack of practical knowledge or common sense. I didn’t know how to cook. I could boil water but I didn’t know how long it took to boil an egg. Well, as always, when I had to learn something, I turned to books. I went to the library and took out a few cookbooks. I wanted to learn how to roast a chicken and bake bread, pretty basic, pretty simple.
This is necessary information for you to understand the subject of my first sale to the CBC. So far you understand that I couldn’t cook, We had a phone answering machine, in those days called a maid. So I didn’t clean or wash dishes or dust. Well, I did dust but that was during the war and it took me all day when I dusted between reading chapters of whatever book my nose was stuck in. I also made my own bed for five years but I never learned about laundry even during the war. Myy father was a doctor and he inherited from his father, also a doctor, a personal charity. He looked after all the medical needs of an order of nuns who ran an orphanage for little ones and a detention home for young women, in thanks for which they did our washing. I remember him saying “I did a big washing today. We had an outbreak of measles in the home,” or whatever. During the war, I guess someone else looked after the measles and the tonsillectomies (and the births) until my father returned, but they kept on doing our washing. My mother never owned a washing machine.
So there I was, totally inept, with all of life ahead of me, and nothing to write about. Write about what you know, that’s the advice for wannabe writers. I wrote about what I didn’t know. I wrote a piece called “My First Washday.” It sold. I had become a professional writer. Trans-Canada Matinee bought it for a cross-country 15- minute radio talk show presented by the CBC weekday afternoons. I recorded it myself and I received 35 dollars for it. So then I wrote and sold “My First Chicken” and “My First Bread”. I would have gone on but I was facing my first pregnancy.